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Sep 6, 2013

It’s the last day before Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend for South Carolina women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley, and is counting down her top five on-court memories.

Last Olympic Gold Medal (2004)

Dawn Staley closed her international basketball career on a high note while taking in all the perks the mission had to offer. Her laser-like focus on playing had defined her first two Olympic experiences, but the final time around she let herself enjoy the moments outside of competition much more. She had learned to savor the journey as much as the destination.

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The 2004 Olympics were to be Staley’s last, and the point guard who had given so much of her life to the game and its expansion in the United States was already onto the next phase of her career having completed her fourth season as the head coach at Temple. At 34 years old, she and Yolanda Griffith were the oldest members of a team that included the next generation of women’s basketball household names – Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tamika Catchings, Diana Taurasi.

The Games opened with an unexpected honor for Staley as her fellow Olympians chose her to carry the American flag in front of the delegation in the opening ceremony. She describes the voting process as if it remains a mystery to her, but the U.S. athletes from all sports recognized the treasure of the three-time Olympian who was playing and coaching while establishing the Dawn Staley Foundation to help Philadelphia’s underprivileged youth. Even as she accepted the surreal reality, Staley did not fully comprehend the magnitude of the selection until she set foot inside the Olympic Stadium in front of the entire U.S. delegation in the Parade of Nations.

As Staley ventured out to watch other sports in Athens, she maintained her intensity on the court, guiding the U.S. to its third straight gold medal. The games were tougher than her first time around, although the Americans still defeated all eight of their opponents by an average of 23.8 points. The semifinal against Russia was the most significant threat to its three-games gold-medal run the U.S. had faced, winning by just four points in a game it never led by more than nine points.

The gold medal game was a matchup of two undefeated teams as Australia advanced out of group play with an unblemished record as well. The Aussies battled the Americans throughout, leaving the U.S. with just a two-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. The lead expanded to double digits, but Australia had another run in it and closed to 66-59 with 2:25 to play. Staley and her veteran Olympians were critical to turning back the Aussies down the stretch.

En route to her Olympic career-high 14 points, Staley stretched the U.S. lead to 11 points with 1:37 to play on a pair of free throws. After Australia answered with two from the charity stripe, Staley drove hard to the basket with 32 seconds to play, then added two more free throws in the final 17 seconds to close our her Olympic career.

“I feel like I still have some offense left in me,” Staley said after the game. “It shows up every now and again. Fortunately, tonight, I hit a couple buckets. My teammates were looking for me. Lisa [Leslie] gave me the ball down low, and she’s never done that before in 16 years!”

Staley Hall of Fame Countdown: College
Staley Hall of Fame Countdown: USA Basketball
Staley Hall of Fame Countdown: U.S. Professional Basketball
Staley Hall of Fame Countdown: Undefeated in High School
Staley Hall of Fame Countdown: 3OT Win at NC State
Staley Hall of Fame Countdown: Defeat Tennessee to Reach First Final Four
Staley Hall of Fame Countdown: First Olympic Gold Medal